By Sally Voth
Members of the Front Royal Town Council aren't ready to jump on Councilman Bret Hrbek's proposal to partner with a McLean firm to redevelop the town.
This week, Hrbek asked that a resolution be added to the March 11 council agenda directing that a non-binding letter of intent be developed between the town and Kratos Infrastructure LLC.
The McLean-based group, which on its website is described as a "global infrastructure development alliance," has among its leadership former Front Royal town manager Michael Graham and former town councilman Tom Conkey.
Together, the entities would come up with a long-term vision and business plan to create jobs and redevelop infrastructure.
"This would be based on the creation of a Front Royal Redevelopment Authority and using Private/Public Partnerships without placing the burden of cost on the backs of our citizens and would create new revenue sources for the town," a statement provided by Hrbek reads.
In a Tuesday interview, Hrbek said Kratos would help discern what the town needed, where it would be located, and help with acquiring the needed property as well as lining up anchor businesses. The development would include hotel, retail, and wellness establishments, and bring high-paying jobs, he said.
Mayor Timothy Darr said he was surprised by Hrbek's proposal.
"We had talked about it a little bit here and there, about maybe looking into some of these options, but it certainly wasn't ready for a full-blown -- basically what he's asking for at the next meeting. It's a lot of information, a lot of commitment to make within the next two weeks without certainly digesting it," Darr said.
He noted that some of the ideas may be valid, but they may be things that other firms could do better.
Darr said he is not concerned by the involvement of Kratos' leaders Michael Graham and Tom Conkey, a former Front Royal town manager and town councilman, respectively.
Graham was fired in 2010, and Conkey didn't seek re-election last May. Another leadership team member listed on Kratos' website is William Lauterbach, who was involved in the controversial SolAVerde project.
"I truly don't have concerns," Darr said.
He reiterated the need for council members to be brought more into the loop of the plans with Kratos before being asked to sign off on the letter.
"I would've taken a different approach," Darr said. "Maybe at the end of the day his philosophy will work and he will win public opinion. As a councilman, he has that right to his voice, his opinion. I'm a little bit more conservative.
"It's a very zealous move," Darr said.
Councilman Hollis Tharpe said he's interested in the concept proposed, but still has concerns.
"We didn't have a dialogue to where we talked about both sides," he said. "We only received information from these folks and they had asked us to meet with them to give us this information. I don't know if putting it out like he did is getting us boxed into something that may not be a good thing. Again, maybe it may be, but I don't know how the public's going to perceive it now."
Tharpe said he didn't want the public to think he "would help line anyone's pockets."
Although he was one of the council members to vote to terminate Graham's employment with the town, Tharpe said he wouldn't be troubled by working with Graham on this project.
Councilman N. Shae Parker praised the idea of "looking outside the box."
"Until there's actually the expenditure of money, I don't think there's any harm [in] looking at options," he said. "I think [Graham and Conkey] understand that there will be closer scrutiny, and I think that everything government does should be scrutinized."
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said the proposal seemed "like a pretty good idea."
"I think we need to look into it and see what's best for the town of Front Royal," he said. "It doesn't matter who's involved with it."
Councilman Daryl Funk said he needed more information to go over the proposal before commenting, and Councilman Tom Sayre said it should be considered and reviewed to ensure it's in the town's best interests.
"It appears that Mr. Hrbek has proposed using a public and private partnership for construction of improvements in town," he said. "This type of agreement has been used by the Warren County School Board on some projects."
Graham said on Wednesday he is the managing partner and a co-founder of Kratos Infrastructure, but said he didn't get involved in individual projects, especially any in Front Royal since he lives there.
"I really don't get involved," he said. "I run the whole company."
Graham noted he hadn't worked for the town since 2010.
"I'm surprised I got pulled into this stuff," he said.
Conkey on Wednesday described himself as being in a consultant role at this point.
"It's really not for me to decide what [Hrbek] wants to share," he said. "I'm doing some new business development, but Mike's not involved in individual projects. I am. We just had some fairly preliminary discussions with Bret and [Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director] Jennifer McDonald and made our presentations to council.
"Those kinds of discussions, that's really up to Bret and Jennifer what they want to discuss."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org